Our image of God

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

24th Sunday in ordinary times

In one of our annual retreats, the retreat master asked us to recall an incident in our childhood when we had our first experience of God and the kind of image of God that was impressed upon us because of it. One priest recalled that when he was a little boy, he stole some oranges from a farmer and happily brought them home for his family to eat. When his father found out how and why he got the oranges, he told him that he was glad of his thoughtfulness but scolded him for stealing, stressing that he offended the farmer and God when we did so. He then ordered him to return the oranges.

The boy went back to the farmer to return the oranges with great hesitation and shame. Realizing the struggle that was going on within the boy, the farmer reaffirmed with a soft and reassuring voice what his father told him. Afterwards, he gave the boy a basket of oranges for his family which he happily brought home.

The priest concluded his story by saying that his first image of God was that of an honest God who wanted him to be honest, too. He added that he was spared of many dishonest dealings because of that incident.

In their formation, the Pharisees were taught about the supremacy of God's law. Thus their image of God was of a lawgiver who demanded that His law be observed at all times and those who disobeyed it were severely punished. This led them to believe that they could merit salvation. However, they avoided the violators of the law for fear of contamination. They would not even show compassion on them as it might bring them to ruin.

Jesus' way was the complete opposite. For this reason, the tax collectors and sinners were drawn to Him so they could listen to Him (Lk. 15:1-32). We find the reason for this in the Pharisees' very complaint against Jesus: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” This went against everything that they were taught! But Jesus had no fear that the people's sinfulness would contaminate Him. In fact, it was precisely because they were sinners that His heart went out to them. He told them that His Father cared for and loved them. To make this truth more understandable, He told them of the parables of “The Lost Sheep,” “The Lost Coin,” and “The Prodigal Son.” We will only focus on the first two since that of the prodigal son is treated separately in other Sunday readings.

The parable of the lost sheep portrays God as a shepherd who looks for the lost sheep “until he finds it.” “And when he finds it,” continued Jesus, “he sets it on his shoulder with great joy.” The same is true of the woman who lost a coin. When she found it, she invited her friends and neighbors to “rejoice” with her.

In both parables, God took the initiative “to find” what was lost. He does the same with us. He makes us realize that we have strayed away from Him while at the same time invites us to return to Him. And when we respond to His invitation and repent, He joyfully carries us home “on his shoulders” or as in the case of the woman who lost a coin, He rejoices at our being found. Jesus concludes both parables with the words: “I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

The image of God presented to us by Jesus in these parables is One Who seeks us in love so that He can forgive us. He knows that we are lost because we have sinned against Him by disregarding His will. But He is willing to overlook that and extend the hand of forgiveness if we only repent.

There are many areas in our lives that need forgiveness and therefore repentance. A good place to start is ourselves. We often say to ourselves, “I can never forgive myself for doing that stupid thing.” Because we have not forgiven ourselves, we feel bitter and angry — with ourselves, with others, with the world, and even with God.

Then there is the seeking of forgiveness from others. We can begin with our parents. Were there things that we have said or done to them which hurt them very much and for which we have not yet asked for forgiveness? The same can be said of our other relationships — with our brothers and sisters, with our friends, even with the people in the community we live in. We have either offended others or they have offended us. Are we willing to ask for forgiveness and to forgive? As the Lord's Prayer says, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Is it not about time that we put this prayer into action?

When we forgive and are forgiven, a great healing takes place in us. We learn to be humble. We also develop a positive outlook not only about God but also about ourselves, others, and society. We then think and speak well of them and do them good. This transformation in ourselves is certainly cause for great rejoicing in heaven.